After a month and a half of finger pointing and tense discussions, officials from both the Woodland Park Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and city hall are headed to the negotiating table, with the prospects of waving a peace banner.
However, it’s still not certain if any city/DDA Magna Carta pact will get signed, but representatives from the two sides appear interested in establishing a mini-truce, or at least establishing a workable arrangement.
“We all have to work as a team,” said DDA board member Elijah Murphy, the co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn, and one of the more vocal critics of city hall. “It is just going to take more effort to get results. Hopefully, we will all benefit and this ‘who is made at whom will go away,’”
“The city is not mad at the DDA,” stressed City Manager David Buttery, who got ousted by the majority board members in July as an interim director of the DDA. With this move, the DDA severed ties with the city involving staff involvement, and opted to operate as “a working board.” “We will work with you to assure that you continue your success story,” added Buttery.
These comments were echoed by other city officials and DDA members, during a special meeting last week, held at the Shining Mountain Golf Club.
The meeting, announced at the 11th hour, was held to discuss publicly ways to secure an agreement for resolving the DDA’s $1 million loan to the city, and also establishing an intergovernmental agreement for services between the DDA and the city.
Both sides plan to meet over the next several weeks, and formally discuss a proposal at the DDA’s next regular meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13.
The main issues of concern deal with a financial arrangement for the DDA to pay back the city, either through regular annual payments, or by issuing bonds, a $1 million loan. This loan occurred in 2007 for design and planning services for a previous project in the Woodland Station area that never materialized.
Also, the DDA and city may try to come to terms over intergovernmental services. Currently, the DDA board, and especially Treasurer Tanner Coy, is doing the brunt of the work, since severing ties with city staff in mid-July. Opinions on this issue are somewhat mixed, even among DDA members.
Veteran DDA member Al Born wants to explore an intergovernmental agreement for city services, contending that the current arrangement is not realistic. “We need to allow Tannner (Coy) to run his business,” said Born. Born expressed concerns over the amount of time DDA members are spending on handling day-to-day operations. He believes the board in the long-term needs to contract out some services from the city, or even consider hiring a city staff employee.
However, Coy contends that the DDA needs to cut costs by eliminating massive payroll expenses that it incurred over the last five years due to a previous arrangement with the city. Plus, he believes that with DDA members at the helm of their operations, the board will provide more accountability. “The processes and transparency (of the board’s previous operation under the city’s control) appeared to be in question,” said Coy, following last week’s public session. “We are restructuring our DDA to allow it to do the right thing.”
In addition, as a key stakeholder in the DDA as the president of Tweeds Fine Furnishings, Coy questions the lack of money that has been invested into public improvements in the downtown. If the new board can cut overhead and expenses, he contends more money can be invested into sprucing up the downtown and addressing such issues as beatification and parking.
A great success story
While the DDA and city may still be at odds over reaching an intergovernmental agreement over joint services, they are on the same page regarding the repayment of the DDA loan to Woodland Park.
During last week’s meeting, Coy presented a scenario that would allow the DDA to repay the city with annual payments between 2017 and 2025. These payments would start at roughly $65,000 in 2017 and extend to about $115,000 a year.
And if this plan isn’t acceptable to the city, the DDA would easily be able to pay back the city much sooner by refinancing its current loan and obtaining $1 million in bond monies by crafting a loan deal with Vectra Bank.
With the amount of revenue generated by the DDA through current projects and future projections, the DDA is in good shape financially. “It is a great success story,” said Conrad Freeman, a representative of Vectra Bank, during last week’s meeting. He cited at least $5 million to $6 million in additional annual revenue generated in the district, since its formation.
Freeman gave an upbeat financial account of the DDA, with the growth of its tax increment financing monies raised since it started in 2004. He didn’t see any problem in Vectra refinancing the DDA’s loan arrangement with the city. And although the local media often concentrates on some of the political clashes and problems at the Woodland Station area, DDA and city officials stressed last week that the DDA district has become a resounding success story, at least financially.
However, there are still some lingering wounds in the latest battle between the city and the DDA. “Is the city mad at us?” questioned DDA board member Jerry Good, during one frank exchange at last week’s special meeting.
This claim was promptly denied by Buttery.
And the issue of thousands of e-mail records that initially disappeared and that were later recouped by city officials, is still a subject of much contention. Coy stated that this matter has been turned over the to the DDA’s attorneys for their review. He stressed that the DDA is mostly concerned that as a working board, it has accurate records of all transactions, including proposed contracts, that have occurred.
The next regular meeting of the DDA is scheduled for Sept. 13 at the city council chambers, starting at 7:30 a.m.